Shivaji Vs Savarkar: The Starkly Opposing Views Of Two Marathas

On the 6th of June 1674, the erstwhile land of a consolidated foreign-ruled Deccan region gained its first Chattrapati, Shivaji Bhonsale I. The events that preceded this pompous occasion are elaborately taught to each and every student studying in the schools in Maharashtra. And why wouldn’t they be? For Shivaji is the first and most celebrated icon, a demi-god one can say, for the people of Maharashtra.

Born into the servitude of the Deccan Sultanate, he envisioned a Hindavi Swarajya, from the time he gained his senses. With phenomenal battle skills and a vision to eradicate the rule of the foreigners, he led a campaign that went on to establish one of the most powerful empires of the late medieval period. The Marathas single-handedly wreaked havoc within the bastions of the Mughals, as well as the Gujarat and Deccan sultanates. With a list of battle-hardened Chattrapatis and Peshwas, the Maratha Empire founded by Shivaji conquered almost all of India by 1759.

Who Were The Marathas?

Were? Aren’t there still people who call themselves Marathas? There are, but they are not the Marathas who cemented this culture that thrives in Maharashtra today. When Chhatrapati Shivaji founded the empire, all those people that stood with him were Marathas. Hindus, Muslims, Christians, no matter who they worshipped; if they were a part of the Maratha Empire, they were Marathas. Santaji Ghorpade was a Maratha and Haider Ali Kohari was also a Maratha.

Fast forward 400 years, the word Maratha is now a caste. Since everyone involved during the Maratha Empire was mostly involved in fighting, the word Maratha became synonymous with Kshatriyas and today, only the Kshatriya caste can factually claim to be Marathas. The rest are all Marathis.

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar’s Maratha

My primary and elementary education in Maharashtra made me think of ‘Veer’ Savarkar in high stature. It was a cursory reading of books, other than the ones prescribed by the government, which drew the entire picture of who Savarkar was, and what he stood for. His incarceration led to a growth in servitude to the British, and an exponential rise in the ideology of Hindutva. Masking a sectarian idea under the garb of Maratha identity, he wrote his first paper on the same under the alias, Maharatta, an ancient term for the region of the Marathas.

A Nazi sympathiser, Savarkar established the Ratnagiri Hindu Sabha and began propagating the idea that Muslims and Christians were misfits in the structure of India. He wrote in his paper, “If the Hindus in India grow stronger in time, these Moslem friends of the league type will have to play the part of the German Jews,” indirectly calling out for a genocide of the Muslims at that time.

Although he is often deemed as a freedom fighter, he seldom did things that helped establish a Swarajya, as the one Shivaji envisioned.

Shivaji’s Hindutva Vs Savarkar’s Hindutva

Shivaji looked at India as a land belonging to a group of cultures, not a religion. This idea is stark opposite to Savarkar’s, who saw India as a land of Hinduism and faiths that were offshoots of the same. Shivaji’s idea of Hindavi Swaraj saw India under the rule of a king who understood the cultures of the land and helped them thrive. This idea of Swarajya was picked up by Bal Gangadhar Tilak in the early 20th century and went on till the turn of the century.

The Mughals imposed Jizya under their rule, a tax paid by non-Muslims for living under the Muslim empire safely. Shivaji did not impose any such tax on non-Hindus. The ‘Chauth’ tax was imposed on each and every subject of the Maratha Empire, equally. Unlike Savarkar, Shivaji only called for driving away the kings, who had become rulers of the land, while not belonging to its culture, an idea that could have been plausible in the medieval period, but is invalid today. He never called for the extermination of Muslims or Christians, unlike Savarkar who seemed to consider Hitler’s ‘Final Solution’ as a viable way of getting rid of the Muslims and Christians in India.

Savarkar called for the removal of Muslims in the government, police, and military service by labelling them as potential traitors. However, Shivaji appointed Muslims in some of the most important positions in the army with Dariya Sarang being the chief of his navy, Ibrahim Khan as the chief of artillery, Siddhi Hilal as his personal bodyguard, and Haider Ali Kohari, one of his most trusted aides and generals.

Not only did Shivaji use Muslims as able officers in his army corps, but he also gave Yaqoot Baba, a Sufi saint, a chair in his court, and would often use his advice in spiritual matters. His Ashta Pradhan or Council of Eight Ministers was an amalgamation of people from different religions, but one set of cultures.

In recent years, the Hindutva of Savarkar has been screened over the Hindutva of Shivaji, coalescing to create an image of an authoritarian Hindu rule, which inherently ghettoizes each and every citizen who doesn’t subscribe to the idea of Hinduism.

I would readily accept a modernised version of Shivaji’s Hindavi Swarajya today, but would never ascribe to any version of Savarkar’s Hindutva. The Maratha identity and the Hindavi Swarajya that Shivaji sketched with his blood and sweat will be marred with ideas of violence and hatred when drawn on the paper of Savarkar’s Hindutva. Presently, the ink is getting weaker, and the paper, stronger.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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